For the Boston Badgers, it’s been a frustrating season. The Badgers spent a considerable amount of money in free agency, acquiring a passel of veterans in an effort to jump-start their growth from last year’s expansion beginnings. In the first quarter of the season, it appeared that their investments had paid off, as the team got off to a respectable start close to the .500 mark. After that point, though, Boston’s inexperience and lack of offensive firepower caught up with it. The team sank to the basement and stayed there; they’re on track to finish with a record only slightly better than last year.
As the Badgers’ record has sagged, so has locker-room morale. Sources close to the team describe a tense situation riven with factions, particularly between the older and younger players on the team. Coach Cam Prince has reportedly struggled to patch the divides on the team. And this week, the tension boiled over into a locker-room fracas that reportedly included actual fisticuffs.
The alleged donnybrook took place after Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Hamilton Pistols. While the loss couldn’t be pinned on any one person, D Graham Bellinger had a particularly rough game, committing a couple of costly defensive-zone turnovers that led almost directly to Hamilton goals. In the quiet postgame locker-room, Bellinger was getting dressed and talking with a couple teammates about what nightclub to go later in the evening.
Bellinger’s breezy talk irritated D Bjorn Tollefson, once of the free-agent veteran that Boston signed in the offseason. Tollefson is a veteran of Ron Wright’s Michigan teams, and is known for his stern and businesslike demeanor. Tollefson walked over to Bellinger and barked, “Maybe instead of going to the club, you should go to the rink and practice the outlet pass.”
Bellinger’s head snapped up, and he replied, “What the [heck] are you talking about?”
Tollefson said, “You should get your head out of your [butt]. You party all the time, you cannot play defense, and you are a killer to the team.”
Bellinger stood up and snapped back, “Maybe you should quit riding my [butt] and mind your own business for a change. You’re a washed-up old [expletive]. All you do is complain, and I’m sick of your [crap].”
Tollefson shouted, “[Screw] you. Must I make you listen with my fists?”
Bellinger replied, “Go on, skin that smokewagon and see what happens, you fat [expletive]!”
Tollefson then lunged at Bellinger, and the two grappled and traded punches. After a minute or so, their teammates were able to separate them. Prince came out of his office, saw what was going on, then went back in his office and shut the door. The locker room remained closed to reporters for a half-hour after the scuffle, and neither Tollefson nor Bellinger was around by the time the press entered.
Both players, and Bellinger in particular, looked a bit banged up during the next day’s morning skate. Bellinger played in the next game. Tollefson sat out, in what was believed to be a team suspension.
The Badgers were tight-lipped about the incident. “What happens in the locker room, I don’t talk about that,” said Tollefson. “It is only inside the family.”
“It’s a long season, and stuff happens sometimes,” Bellinger said. “It’s over.”
“A lot of people think they know what happened in our room, but they don’t,” said Prince. “There’s a lot of bogus stories I’m hearing about this so-called ‘brawl.’ It’s ridiculous, is what it is. These are professional athletes. Tempers run high sometimes, but that’s it. Sorry, folks, nothing to see here.”
Boston’s season is almost over, so it seems likely that there will be few long-term ramifications from this incident. If anyone does pay for this, however, it’s likely to be Prince. If the Badgers front office decide that the coach is unable to improve the team’s problematic chemistry, they might decide a new bunch boss in order.
Unsurprisingly, Prince declined to discuss whether he expects to be fired. “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” the coach said in response to a question about his job status. “Shame on you for asking.”